Last July, while rain was pouring down in Belgium, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in sunny San Francisco. The first objective of my trip was to start building a network on the US West Coast. Something that can come in handy when some of the startups I help, want to expand in that direction. The opening of “Atelier in the bay”, Belcham’s coworking space for Belgian companies in San Francisco, was the perfect starting point for that.

Attacking a 9 hour time difference is not something you do just for fun. So in an effort to make the most out of my trip I contacted Jason Calacanis. I’ve been - digitally - following Jason for a number of years and I truly appreciate the mixture of bluntness, wit, insight and vision which are always grounded in solid experience (in life and in business). Opinionated is the least you could call him, but his claims are so powerful because they stem from a true conviction. His brain seems to process every experience in life into a yardstick for the future. Or simply put, he constantly tries new stuff, learns from it and moves on. And that’s what makes a great entrepreneur.
It took a bit of ‘growth hacking’ to contact Jason, but I did manage to spend an afternoon with him during a Launch incubator session. Launch incubator is Jason’s personal incubator where he preps startups (post-MPV) for launch and growth. The afternoon consisted of presentations (3 min) by each of the startups, feedback and voting by the VC’s present (so I was a San Francisco VC for 3 hours 😃 ), an update from one of the alumni (which happened to be Craig Zingerline from Votion, in which I made a small investment through Jason’s Angellist syndicate) and a stunning presentation about acquisition metrics for SaaS companies by Andy Artz from Social Capital.
My take-aways are not novel or revolutionary, but the experience did strengthen some of the convictions I already had. Here they are:
  1. US/San Francisco startups don’t have ideas that are better or more innovative than what we see in Europe or Belgium. One of the concepts (Betagig) is even based on a model that exists in France. To my shame I must admit I didn't know it. One thing incubee's have in common: all of the startups had a well thought-through offering, business model and pitch. That is something we in Belgium can still improve on.
  2. Clearly the commitment of the people I met is on average a lot higher than what I’m used to seeing at home. None of them was ‘trying to get something going while keeping another job alive’. They are all laser-focused on a clear mission to make their plan work within a certain timing. If that doesn’t work they’ll probably switch back to different mode of working (consulting or working at a company) until they feel the time is right to give it another go. So it’s like hopping from one train to another when needed, rather than constantly changing lanes in an attempt to start a company and keep some kind of a salary.
  3. Startups are not about IT alone, they are about science, technology and innovation. There is no need to have an app or a cloud application to be considered an entrepreneur. As an example, one of the teams in the incubator is working on an innovative housing solution. Which brings me back to the definition of entrepreneurship I used before: doing something new and learn from it.
  4. Finally Jason proved again that success in business is about people. The incubator coaches a maximum of 8 people at a time, allowing for a lot of high quality human interaction with Jason and the mentors. Feedback is given from person to person which means it’s customised to the needs of the entrepreneur and of high quality and relevance.
So I did not only meet Jason but also got to talk with some bright people, an afternoon more then well spent. Thanks Jason (and Jacqui) for having me!